July 7, 2016

6 Ways to Outsource Your Brain

6 Ways to Outsource Your Brain

Like any ~millennial,~ I’m a busy, busy person. We’re currently in the middle of renovating our house, so I’m working with the contractors, plumbers, electricians, and everyone else, while freelancing from my studio, meeting new clients, and finding time to work on side hobbies. Any way I can cut down on extraneous thinking and wasted time is a godsend to me (everything I’m trying to remember feels like too much on my [brain] plate), so I’ve tried out productivity app after productivity app. After awhile, you find that you spend more time using productivity apps than you actually are productive—which is disheartening and disappointing. I’ve been able to hone it into a couple of apps and methods that are genuinely useful, and I’ll lay them out for you here:

1. Calendly

“Are you free at 12 on Thursday?” “No, I have conflict, are you available to meet at 2 on Wednesday?” “No, that doesn’t work for me either.”

This back and forth drives me crazy—I find myself wanting to just send them a screenshot of my Google Calendar and tell them to pick a spot that works. Turns out, with Calendly, you don’t have to be that extreme. Calendly links with your Google Calendar, sees when you’re busy, and allows people to make appointments with you when you’re available. They get to pick. This reminds me of my favorite compromise as a kid, when I’d pick five movies I wanted to see and my brother would pick the one he wanted to watch out of the five. We both win! Calendly is also great because the other person doesn’t see the intimate details of your life. Nail appointment from 2—3 on Tuesday? Okay, let’s do that conference call at 3:30.

My only hangup with Calendly is it feels weird and a little distancing to send someone a list of times and have them pick one—but I’m hoping it becomes a little more widely done, and therefore less icky.

Cost: Free for the basic plan, $10/mo for the premium.

2. Boomerang

I work late. Freelancing allows me to spend the day playing fetch with my dog, and my evenings getting projects done (if I want to). However, I don’t really want clients to know they can email me at midnight, because I’ll read their emails when I’m falling asleep and then have fever dreams about deadlines all night.

Boomerang allows me to draft an email when fully coherent, and schedule it to be sent at a later date. This gets the email off my brain plate and Boomerang handles the rest.

My favorite part about this app is you can set it to send at a really casual time, like “tomorrow morning.” It’ll send at 9:32 AM instead of 9:00 AM, which can make the email feel suspicious, or at the very least, a little coincidental.

There’s also a feature where Boomerang can ping you if someone hasn’t responded to your email in a set amount of time. I haven’t used it yet, but I could also see that being super helpful.

Cost: Free for 10 sends a month, then $4.99/mo and up. I probably use this about 20x/mo.

3. Google Calendar (but not for the reasons you might think)

Everyone knows it and loves it. I honestly dare you to find a better, cheaper alternative to Google Calendar. However, my favorite use for this in a brain-thinking capacity is the ability to use recurring dates and dates in the future.

At the end of last summer, Ryan and I had a brilliant idea for sneaking into apartment pools. However, it was almost time for pool season to be over, and I wanted to remember our method the following summer. Rather than try to call that information back at the same time, I set it as a calendar date for the following April. Once we got to April, the reminder was there. Sure, the Reminders app could work for this too, but, for small notes to self, this is a great system.

I’m also obsessed with setting recurring dates. I have all of my bills, meetings, invoice dates, birthdays, and major memory days set as recurring calendar items (outside of Calendly’s purview, so it doesn’t jank up my availability). I even set up a separate calendar with growing dates for my garden. I love being able to see a bird’s eye view of the week and month at a glance.

Cost: Free!

4. Doodle

You may remember using Doodle in college for scheduling group projects, but, Doodle’s still super useful today (even though the interface is a little clunky). It’s amazing for wrangling the schedules of a bunch of people at once, who don’t need to sign up for the service to use it.

Doodle is convenient in a similar way to Calendly in that, as the poll creator, I can pick and choose based on when I’m already free. That way, no one agrees on a date where I can’t even make it.

My only beef is I wish there were an easy way to connect it with your calendar, so when you indicate that a couple dates and times work for you, they’re blocked off on your calendar to hold the spot. Earlier in the summer I did a Doodle poll that was for basically all of June, July and August, but by the time we got to July, most people had forgotten which days they’d filled out and ended up being busy.

Cost: Free! Premium is $39/yr, but the free version gets the job done.

5. Trello

I’ve been using Trello for almost a year at this point but still feel like I’m a new user for some reason. I change the way I use it almost monthly, because it’s so open-ended and flexible, I almost find it overwhelming. You can have an infinite number of boards and cards, so you could use a board with five cards on it like a checklist, or you can do a checklist within a specific card. However, there are some things that have stayed the same since I started:

  • An ideas board. Do you ever have ideas in the shower, and once you get out, they fade away? Do ideas come to you while you’re stuck in traffic? Do they come to you while you’re walking? WRITE THEM DOWN. Get them out of your brain. Trying to hold on to an idea you think is good is noise, so quiet that noise by writing it down. Then, when you feel creatively stuck, reference the ideas list. I make a point to never delete anything, no matter how dumb it feels, because it may come back to help me later.
  • A future list. What do you want to do in the future, but maybe not now? Run a 5k? Learn how to code? Make stop motion videos? (okay these are all mine.) Putting your future goals down in a visible list is helpful and inspiring. I suppose you could write these goals down on a piece of paper and stick it to your wall, but my goals feel kind of personal, like a struggle I need to triumph over. Also, if you’re ever bored for any reason (three day weekend? slow work day?), you can reference this goals list and start trying to tackle one.

Cost: Free! You can upgrade for $10/mo to the Business version, which is nice, but not necessary.

6. TextExpander

For some reason, TextExpander is the hardest app to explain to people and get them on board to use. But it has changed my workflow game so much I can’t stop talking about it.

If you work on a computer as part of a job, chances are you have some things that you type out repeatedly. When I was working at Paste and hiring people, I had a few emails I sent out to people very often. “We’ve received your application and…” “We’d like to schedule an interview….” and “Thanks for applying….” emails took forever to type out every time; I’d usually go back through an old email, copy it, and change the language to send out. Every time I hired someone I’d get 50+ emails, and I wanted to respond to all of them if possible. That’s what I would want as an applicant!

With TextExpander, I set up a couple of these emails as templates – you can set spaces for names and specific information, so TextExpander prompts you to fill them in before you send the email.

For example, an email I send while volunteering for Cabbagetown’s Chomp and Stomp festival:

Screenshot 2016-07-07 11.25.41

Boom! You can also set snippets for your name, address, website, email, literally anything you find yourself writing often.

Cost: Start with a free trial to make sure you like it (you will), and then it’s $40/yr. It looks like they have a team option now too, so you can sync your language across different computers. Super cool.

What do you think? Have you tried out any of these apps, or have questions about them?

Blog , Inspiration , Small Business
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